Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's black and white and read all over?

I've subscribed to the local newspaper pretty much all my adult life.  Even when we didn't have much money, we always bought the newspaper and a couple of magazines.  Reading the paper is as much of a rhythm in my life as it was my dad's.  I even trained my very young children to leave me alone while I ate lunch and read the paper when I was a stay-at-home mom.  (Now, for the record, they are both very committed readers and they don't seem to hold a deep resentment for newsprint.)

I read the paper methodically--first the front page, then follow up on those stories on  the inside of the first section, then the editorials, then the other columns, and then the comics.  Lately, though . . . and this makes me feel like a curmudgeon . . . it's just not the same.  I miss Calvin and Hobbes and some of the other old comic strips.  Too many of the existing strips are old but they never were any good and they still aren't.  (I mean, seriously, why does anyone think we still need Hagar the Horrible?) I like some of the newer strips but I don't like like them, if you know what i mean.

I got tired of reading news articles that I had already read about in Time or in The Week as if it were new news.  Seriously, if it happened long enough ago that it has showed up in a newsmagazine, it's not news.  I still like the columns but I often read them online because they're in their entirety and not edited for space.

The reason I'm considering unsubscribing, though, has nothing to do with all that.  It has to do with the editorial page of the Austin American Statesman.  Every day, the editorial columns are organized and labeled as "From the Right" and "From the Left."  At first, the "From the Right" column was on the right side of the page and vice versa, but now they've decided to make it tricky and they put the conservative column on the left-hand side of the page and the progressive column on the right.   I don't know, maybe they think that will balance things out.

It just drives me nuts, though, that I, the reader, can't be trusted to form opinions without being told ahead of time whether the content of the column is likely to challenge or reinforce the opinions I already hold.  I guess the idea is to prevent me from accidentally reading something I won't agree with or to make sure that I don't get upset by inadvertently seeing something that doesn't confirm my prejudices.  Maybe the editorial board is just trying to answer the frequent accusations that the paper is "promoting" some agenda by printing articles that the reader disagrees with.  "Look!"  They seem to be saying.  "We're fair and balanced!"  (Oh, wait, that's someone else.)

I understand that newspapers have to compete against other media outlets that tailor the news to their readers' or viewers' already held opinions.  But I worry about the culture we are creating by protecting ourselves from opinions with which we disagree and only going to news sources that are going to tell us what we already think we know.


Electric Monk said...

Not to mention the idea that any and all opinions can be classified as either "right" or "left." Might there, in fact, be something that's neither? Or both?

Trisha said...

Yes, exactly!!